Bid to brighten up east Princes Street ‘backwater’

The Cafe Royal's Reza Najafi has welcomed the plan. Picture: Jane Barlow

The Cafe Royal's Reza Najafi has welcomed the plan. Picture: Jane Barlow

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A CITY centre district labelled as a “backwater” is set to be transformed into a bustling retail hub under business plans being drawn up.

A £60,000 study mapping out redevelopment plans for the Register Lanes area at the east end of Princes Street will be funded by stakeholders including the Royal Bank of Scotland and the city council.

The overhaul is aimed at helping the city “put its best foot forward” with the number of people using the area, including West Register Street, expected to soar next year when the St Andrew Square tram stop becomes operational.

But a larger vision is in the pipeline, with a study by property consultants GVA suggesting West Register Street should be at the heart of a new shopping zone.

A string of retail spaces in the area have no tenants, with cafes and boutique shops tipped as the best fit for the lanes.

Essential Edinburgh chief executive Andy Neal labelled the area around West Register Street as “unsafe” and “dark and dingy” in parts.

He said the poor condition of the roads in the district was the biggest issue.

He added: “If you project yourself forward six months and we’ve got trams stopping out at St Andrew Square and you’ve got people who are perhaps heading to the Balmoral as their hotel of choice or the new hotel that’s going to be across the road, they’re going to get a map out and they’re going to walk along West 
Register Street to get there. To be honest, it’s not Edinburgh putting its best foot forward as a first impression.”

The opening of the new flagship Apple store opposite the Balmoral Hotel is also expected to boost traffic through the Register Lanes area.

Contractors have already started pulling up cobbles in West Register Lane and re-laying them to prevent falls along the thoroughfare, with business groups urging the council to fast-track more proposed work.

Property owner UBIG is one of the main glitches to overcome, with the Lithuanian firm and Hearts shareholder having entered administration.

David Stewart, whose firm owns four Edinburgh pubs including the Guildford Arms in West Register Street, said the area had not received any real investment in 25 years.

He said: “Paving the street correctly, lighting the street correctly and making it safe to walk underfoot, which it really isn’t at the moment – these things are absolutely essential. I would like to see the area designated like Rose Street. It’s high time because the Cafe Royal and the Guildford Arms are two of the city’s finest pubs.

“It’ll be great because it is a little bit of a backwater if you don’t know Edinburgh very well.”

Cafe Royal manager Reza Najafi said he was hugely supportive of the regeneration scheme. He added: “Any work that opens up this area will be good for business.”